McCain: Botched Arizona Execution Was ‘Torture’

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is calling a botched lethal injection execution in his state “torture” after it took two hours for the death row inmate to die, gasping for breath during that period. Previous attempts to halt the execution in the courts were unsuccessful.

The long-time Arizona senator and former prisoner of war told Politico this week that the recent botched execution of convicted murderer Joseph Wood was “terrible.”

“I believe in the death penalty for certain crimes. But that is not an acceptable way of carrying it out. And people who were responsible should be held responsible,” he said in an interview. “The lethal injection needs to be an indeed lethal injection and not the bollocks-upped situation that just prevailed. That’s torture.”

To understand why McCain called the botched execution torture, just look at how a reporter with The Arizona Republic described the execution:

“This was the fifth execution I’ve witnessed. They don’t look like much. The condemned person usually wears an expression of dumbfounded embarrassment and stares absurdly at the ceiling. Then, his eyes close slowly and he stops moving, except for a few chest-raising breaths that slow and then stop. The face slackens, the mouth gapes. It’s usually over in 10 or 11 minutes.

“Wood’s execution was no different — at first. Maybe he was smiling, but just slightly. He took a few gulps of air and closed his eyes.

“The priest stopped praying and watched.

“Four minutes into the procedure, the doctor appeared on the other side of the window. He checked Wood’s eyes and pulse and then said over the microphone, ‘It is confirmed that he is sedated.'”

But then things went awry:

“Then at 2:05, Wood’s mouth opened. Three minutes later it opened again, and his chest moved as if he had burped. Then two minutes again, and again, the mouth open wider and wider. Then it didn’t stop.

“He gulped like a fish on land. The movement was like a piston: The mouth opened, the chest rose, the stomach convulsed. And when the doctor came in to check on his consciousness and turned on the microphone to announce that Wood was still sedated, we could hear the sound he was making: a snoring, sucking, similar to when a swimming-pool filter starts taking in air, a louder noise than I can imitate, though I have tried.

“It was death by apnea. And it went on for an hour and a half. I made a pencil stroke on a pad of paper, each time his mouth opened, and ticked off more than 640, which was not all of them, because the doctor came in at least four times and blocked my view.”

While McCain called the execution described above “torture,” Gov. Jan Brewer, R-Ariz., has said the execution followed the letter of the law and delivered the punishment prescribed by the state.

The Arizona execution that McCain described as torture is the third such case to take place in recent months, with one in Oklahoma ultimately killing the inmate via heart attack and another in Ohio taking longer than the prescribed amount of time.

[Image via Flickr Creative Commons]